Shock collar

Shock collar

The term shock collar is used to describe an electronic training aid developed to deliver an electrical signal through contact points attached to a dog collar. While similar systems are available for other animals, the most common are the collars designed for domestic dogs. These electronic collars utilise the principles of operant conditioning, sometimes as a form of positive punishment in order to reduce the frequency of undesired behaviors, but mostly as a form of negative reinforcement, to increase the frequency of desired behaviors. (Tri-Tronics and Dogtra Training manuals)

Controversy surrounds the use of the collars due to issues of long-term distress Harv|Schilder|van der Borg|2004 and the ethics of training via the use of pain. Modern electronic collars are called remote electronic training collars by manufacturers and sometimes e-collars by users.


The purpose of the device was to control the dog when it was far away or distracted. The popularity of these devices expanded from sport dog owners to companion dog owners and service dog trainers, but the early models had significant problems. These early models had only one level of stimulation that reputedly generated an unnecessarily harsh electric current, needlessly causing pain and distress to dogs . The first generation of shock collars was also prone to unreliability and reportedly discharged in response to extraneous elements Harv|Lindsay|2005|p=575. Modern developments have seen significant improvement in reliability. Most current devices deliver a controlled electric current, ranging from low levels of stimulation (creating a tickling or tingling effect) to medium levels (a level which annoys or startles) to high levels (capable of causing significant discomfort) Harv|Lindsay|2005|p=575.

It should be noted that there is no standardization for these devices and that comfort and reliability can fluctuate significantly from one manufacturer to the next. Pulse duration and waveform, pulse repletion rate, size and type of electrodes, distance between electrodes, voltage and electric current levels, as well as the fit of the collar all factor into the amount and comfort of signal the dog receives. The best available collars have a wide range of settings beginning with extremely mild stimulation, and often have a pager function that cause the collar to vibrate.

Types of devices

Traditionally, the use of shock collars has been broken down into three groups:

Pet containment systems

The most common use of shock collars is pet containment systems that are used to keep a dog inside the perimeter of the residence without the construction of a physical barrier. Available systems include: in-ground installation to preserve the aesthetics of the yard, above ground installation to reinforce an existing barrier that was not sufficient in containing the dog, and wireless systems to allow for indoor use Harv|Radio Systems Corp.|2004|p=2. Most pet containment systems work by installing a wire around the perimeter of the yard. The wire carries no current but forms a closed loop with a circuit box that transmits a radio signal to the receiver collar worn by the dog Harv|Lindsay|2005|p=573. As the dog approaches the perimeter the collar will give the dog a warning beep or vibration (most dogs begin to associate the beep with the shock and react instead to the beep, effectively removing the shock altogether); if the dog attempts to cross the wire the collar will administer an electronic current: the amount and frequency of current is preset by the owner.

Bark control collars

Bark control collars are used to curb excessive or nuisance barking by delivering a discomfort from the collar the moment the dog begins barking. Available systems include: electric current-based, citronella spray, vibration and ultrasonic. Electric bark collars deliver an electrical current, spray bark collars deliver a burst of spray (citronella, lemon, air, or water), and ultrasonic collars deliver a loud noise only the dog can hear. Bark collars can be activated by microphone or vibration and some of the most advanced collars use both sound and vibration to eliminate the possibility of extraneous noises activating a response. [1]

Training collars or remote trainers

Training collars, also called remote trainers, are electric current collars that can be activated by a handheld device. These collars are more controversial than pet containment systems or bark control collars because they are more susceptible to abuse or operator error (that is, if the disincentive is not applied in a manner so that the dog associates it with the undesirable action, the dog will not learn to avoid the behavior). The electric current is meant to interrupt behavior when the dog is too far away for other means of control. Better quality remote trainers have a large variety of levels, can give varying duration of electric current, and have a beep or vibration option useful for getting the dog’s attention.


Currently, electric current collars are the subject of significant debate.

Technical considerations

The two critical aspects of the effect of shock collars are the amount of energy delivered in the electrical impulse, and the waveform and duration of that pulse. The voltage or current delivered cannot individually be relied upon as indicators of the discomfort produced by a shock. The amount of energy (joules) that flows through the body which, in a closed circuit, is based on volts, current and time.

Pulse duration, pulse repetition rate (frequency) and pulse waveform are major determinants of the degree of discomfort the pet experiences. Longer pulse durations and increasing repetition rates produce more discomfort than shorter pulse durations and less repetition. Modern shock collars sold in the US shift intensity levels by altering pulse duration or repetition rate instead of increasing current or voltage Harv|Lindsay|2005|p=571. The sensation the pet receives can be manipulated, but the electrical energy remains relatively constant.

Knowing the electrical breakdown of a shock collar can be helpful, but the best way to really understand the magnitude or aversiveness is to simply feel it for one's self. Of course, individual sensitivity varies, and this must be taken into account,. If a remote trainer is tested by starting at the lowest level and gradually increasing the stimulation, it is possible to find a level at which you will notice the stimulation but not consider it painful. Just as it may be possible to find a level at which a dog just begins to notice the feeling.

Psychological implications

A major concern for all parties involved is whether electric current results in aggression, stress or persistent anxiety. The complication in addressing this topic comes from the way the collar is used by an individual trainer, and by the fact that stress is present in any learning situation.

As with any stressor, the degree to which a dog perceives control over the stimulation is directly related to how the dog will react. All dogs will avoid discomfort. If the dog understands that a specific behavior such as returning to his trainer or releasing the item in his mouth will stop the discomfort, then the dog will react accordingly. If a dog does not perceive control over the event, then he will fall back on instinctual responses to coping with the perceivably inescapable event.

Another important factor to consider when using shock collars, or any other form of punishment, is the concept of "unnecessary suffering". If a training, or other task, involving an animal may be achieved with a minimum of pain or distress, then to cause any suffering beyond this is "unnecessary". So, if it is possible to train recall reliably without the use of a shock collar then to use one might be considered to cause "unnecessary suffering".

childer & van der Borg study

Matthijs B.H. Schilder and Joanne A.M. van der Borg studied behavioral effects such as lowering body posture, high pitched yelps, barks, avoidance, redirection aggression and tongue flicking during guard dog training of German shepherds Harv|Schilder|van der Borg|2004. The behaviors of 16 dogs that had been recently trained using shocks (S-dogs) were compared to the behaviors of 15 control dogs that received similar training but were disciplined with fairly harsh methods that did not include electric current. Data was collected only during training sessions and walks in the park during which no shocks were applied in order to study the post-training physiological differences of the two groups. The differences between shocked and control dogs were small but consistent: shocked dogs showed more stress-related behavior than control dogs on the training grounds as well as in the park, shocked dogs connected their handlers with getting shocks, and shocked dogs may connect orders given by their handlers with getting shocked. In the discussion subtitled “Is the welfare of shocked dogs impaired?” Schilder and Borg conclude their comments:

:We also have shown that the training itself is stressful for both groups of dogs as compared to walking on the leash. [This] example [...] is one of the many mistakes that were made during protection dog training: the command was followed by a shock so quickly that the dog was not able to prevent a shock. This leads to an unwanted conditioning: the dog has learned that getting a command predicts getting a shock.

:We hope a future comparison of German shepherd dogs trained in a more friendly way will bear out that indeed a friendly training regime leads to less signals of stress. We have not proved that the long-term welfare of the shocked dogs is hampered, but we have made clear that it is under serious threat Harv|Schilder|van der Borg|p=332.

Proponents of remote collar training argue that this is a small study using the collar in a particularly aversive manner, however dramatic the results may seem. It is not illustrative of the way many remote collar trainers use the tool. However, the study has been influential in affecting the reputation of remote training regardless of the method with which the collar is used.

As recorded in the UK parliamentary record Hansard Fact|date=November 2007 Rachel Casey and Emily Blackwell, who are both from the department of clinical veterinary science at the University of Bristol, have stated:

:Given the wealth of peer reviewed research currently available on the physiological and behavioural effects of aversive stimuli, such as electrical shocks, on a range of different species, as well as the peer reviewed work done on dogs by Schilder et al, Beerda et al and Christiansen et al, we feel that there is a sufficiently robust scientific argument for the banning of the use of electronic shock collars in dog training.

Polsky study

Polsky discusses the effect of shock collar-based fencing on the behaviour of dogs, citing five incidents in which dogs exposed to this type of containment then went on to become aggressive Harv|Polsky|2000. The implication was that in each case the dog had received a shock when approaching people in the perimeter zone and were then shocked. As suggested by other research, dogs may make inappropriate associations between shock and other experiences. In all cases, the dog was positioned directly within the signal field and therefore must have received a shock. In all but one case, no threatening action was performed by the victim toward the dog. In all cases, the dogs gave no warning prior to the attack and there was repeated biting of all victims, resulting in serious injuries to head, face, back and neck. Polsky believes the analyzed cases suggest that these dogs became aggressive because of the electronic containment system. What is not known is the type of training the dog received when introduced to the containment system, if the dogs spent a lot of time outside unsupervised and at what shock level the collars were set. However, this clearly exposes a limitation of this form of pet containment. In all cases, the victims were in or near the signal field and each received several serious bites.

chalke et al. study

Schalke et al.'s study sought to investigate whether any stress is caused by the use of electric shock collars and in this way to contribute to their evaluation with respect to animal welfare Harv|Schalke|Stichnoth|Ott|Jones-Baade|2007.

In this study heart rate and saliva cortisol were used to determine the stress levels in 14 laboratory-bred Beagles. For seven months the dogs were trained daily in three separate experimental groups. Group A (Aversion) received an electric pulse when the dogs touched a rabbit dummy attached to a motion device (the prey). Group H (Here) received the electric pulse when they did not obey a previously trained recall command while hunting. Group R (Random) received the electric pulse randomly, unpredictably and out of context. After the seven months of experimental training, the dogs’ heart rates and cortisol levels were tested in a variety of hunting situations: for the first 5 days the dogs were allowed to hunt unimpeded; for the next 5 days the dogs were impeded by a leash; for the last 7 days the electric training collars were brought back and the dogs were separated into their groups and treated as described previously. The data revealed that Group A did not show a significant rise in salivary cortisol levels, but Groups H and R did show significant increases, with Group R as the greatest increase in salivary cortisol levels. When the Beagles were tested 4 weeks later, the results remained the same. Schalke et al. summarized the conclusion of their study:

This led to the conclusion that animals, which were able to clearly associate the electric stimulus with their action, i.e. touching the prey, and consequently were able to predict and control the stressor, did not show considerable or persistent stress indicators Harv|Schalke|Stichnoth|Ott|Jones-Baade|2007|p=370.

The results of the Schalke et al. study are consistent with several of its contemporaries:

This corresponds with the result of the post-test and Polsky’s (1994) statement that a lack of timing and/or electric shock that lasts too long causes a fear of the environment/of people in dogs.
The results are consistent with Feddersen-Petersen and Teutsch (1999) as well as Grauvogl (1991) who found that poor timing i.e. the impossibility to associate electric shock and stimulus leads to insecurity and extreme states of anxiety Harv|Schalke|Stichnoth|Ott|Jones-Baade|2007|p=379.

Ban and control of shock collars

The use of shock collars has already been subjected to ban or control in a number of countries, and a ban or legislative control of their use is supported by most, if not all, of the major animal welfare charities.

They are banned in Denmark, Slovenia and Sweden, with Austria and Italy also considering introducing bans. Fact|date=November 2007

In Australia, it is illegal to import a shock collar through Australian Customs, despite widespread availability and varying laws in different states. Shock collars are illegal to "own" and "use" in New South Wales (NSW) and Australia's Capital Territory (ACT). The "use" of shock collars is restricted in Victoria (VIC), South Australia (SA) and Northern Territory (NT), though it is not against the law to "purchase" or "own" a shock collar in these states. Currently, there are no laws against purchase, ownership or use of a shock collar in Queensland (QLD), Western Australia (WA) or Tasmania (TAS).

The restrictions on the use of shock collars within several Australian states require that the dog owner first consult with a qualified veterinarian or dog trainer. This type of written recommendation or "prescription" may also work in NSW and the ACT.

In the UK this includes the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club. The behavioural medicine departments of all of the veterinary colleges in the UK support a ban on their use.Fact|date=November 2007 Even the Association of Chief Police Officer (ACPO, UK) has banned their use in police dog training establishments. Fact|date=November 2007

Nationally, the issue of whether to permit the use of shock collars is a subject of debate. In the UK, the government has not made a final decision on the matter, although continued pressure and debate in the House of Commons supports a ban. Electric Shock Training Devices Bill will receive its second reading in the House of Commons.


* Citation
last = Schilder
first = Matthijs B.H.
last2 = van der Borg
first2 = Joanne A.M.
year = 2004
title = Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects
periodical = Applied Animal Behaviour Science
volume = 85
pages = 319–334

* Citation
last = Lindsay
first = Steven
year = 2005
title = Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior
publisher = Blackwell
pages = 557–633

* Citation
last = Polsky
first = R.H.
year = 2000
title = Can aggression be elicited through electronic pet containment systems
periodical = Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
volume = 3
pages = 345–357

* Citation
last = Schalke
first = E.
last2 = Stichnoth
first2 = J.
last3 = Ott
first3 = S.
last4 = Jones-Baade
first4 = R.
year = 2007
title = Clinical signs caused by the use of electric training collars on dogs in everyday life situations
periodical = Applied Animal Behaviour Science
volume = 105

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